The Birth of a Vision: Big Bill Odor’s Journey to Oklahoma
In the year 1892, William Harrison “Big Bill” Odor and his wife, Myra Eva (Keely) Odor, embarked on a new journey, making their way to the promising lands of Oklahoma. Four years later, in 1896, they acquired a sprawling 320-acre farmland; a canvas for their dreams. It was in 1898 that Bill Odor set out to create an architectural masterpiece—a barn of a truly unique, circular design.
Craftsmanship and Innovation: The Building of the Burr Oak Round Barn
The construction of the round barn was entrusted to Odor and his brother-in-law J. Henan Keely, alongside a team of skilled farmhands. They utilized the resilient native burr oak for the framework, relying on traditional craftsmanship to shape the materials. To achieve the curved roof rafters, the team soaked green 2x4s in the river, bending and drying them into the desired form. To ensure the stability of the structure, they built a sturdy ladder that spanned from the loft floor to the future apex of the roof, a remarkable 43 feet above the ground.
According to local legend, when the critical moment arrived to fasten the first two rafters at the top, none of Odor’s workers dared to undertake the daunting task. Undeterred, it was Big Bill Odor himself who bravely scaled the ladder and expertly tied the rafters together, securing the integrity of his grand vision.
During the construction process, Rockwood Blevins and brothers Paul and Fred Fesler, three of Odor’s workers, noticed that the expansive loft of the barn held untapped potential as a dance venue. Enthusiastically, they proposed to cover the difference in cost between the originally planned rough plank floor and a sleek, polished hardwood floor, in exchange for the opportunity to hold three dances within the loft. Odor graciously agreed to their proposal, adding the caveat that only “good music” would be played within the walls of his round barn.
Building Arcadia: The Story of How a Small Town Came to Be
During the early 20th century, in 1902, the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas railroad etched its path through the landscape, carving a route directly across Odor’s vast land holdings, just south of his iconic round barn. Recognizing the potential for growth and prosperity, William Odor, along with Isaac Dawson and B. F. Newkirk, united to form a visionary town site company. Together, they meticulously planned and laid out a charming new settlement, which they fittingly christened Arcadia—a name that would forever evoke images of idyllic rural life.
In the year 1914, Oklahoma County seized a golden opportunity to further connect the region. They acquired a right-of-way and meticulously constructed a humble, yet functional, dirt road that stretched through the picturesque property nestled between the remarkable round barn and the railroad tracks. This quaint, unassuming path was officially designated as State Highway 7, and helped forge new connections and opportunities for the blossoming community.
Becoming Part of Route 66
In the transformative year of 1926, State Highway 7 was bestowed with a new honor. Despite its unassuming, unpaved nature, this stretch of road was christened as part of the legendary U.S. Highway 66. This momentous designation signaled the highway’s inclusion in the expanding national highway system, forever linking Arcadia with a network of roads that would come to symbolize the spirit of adventure and exploration.
The Highway is Paved
In 1929, a long-awaited transformation took place in the town of Arcadia. The once-rugged highway that meandered through the heart of the community underwent a significant update when it was finally paved. This new, smooth thoroughfare was meticulously constructed using a “modified Bates type” roadway design. The result was an impressive 18-foot wide ribbon of asphalt, an ample 2 inches thick, gracefully laid atop a 5-inch thick concrete base. This revitalized highway now provided a welcoming passage for travelers, inviting them to experience the charm and beauty of Arcadia.
The Arcadia Round Barn Finds New Owners
In April of 1946, the round barn embarked on a new chapter in its history, as ownership was transferred to the hands of Frank and Katie Vrana. For the next three decades, the Vranas thoughtfully utilized the barn for practical purposes, converting it into a storage space for hay and transforming it into a bustling workplace.
However, following the installation of a large door on the barn’s northeastern side, they soon realized that they had inadvertently compromised the integrity of the structure. This modification left the barn vulnerable, and when ferocious winds from a large storm swept through the area, the once-sturdy structure began to lean, bearing the scars of nature’s power.
Weathered and Decayed
In the year 1977, as the Arcadia Round Barn earned its rightful place on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places, the once-majestic structure was at the same time, sadly succumbing to the ravages of time. Rapidly decaying and weathered, the barn had become an unfortunate target for vandals and arsonists, who sought to destroy the beauty and historical significance of this cherished landmark.
Restoration of the Arcadia Round Barn
Luke Robison, a skilled builder and carpenter enjoying his retirement, became aware of the Round Barn’s dire situation. Driven by a passion for history and preservation, he joined forces with his wife Anna and Beverly White to establish The Arcadia Historical and Preservation Society. In an act of generosity and hope, on May 27, 1988, Frank Vrana’s descendants entrusted the barn to the Society through a heartfelt donation.
Robison had just embarked on the crucial mission of reinforcing the barn’s fragile structure only a few days prior when, on June 29, 1988, at precisely 12:09 pm, the deteriorating roof of the barn collapsed in on its own weight. In the words of a witness, it “just kind of sighed and fell in, like a soufflé.” Despite this heartbreaking setback, the Society remained unshaken in reaching their goals to restore the barn. They faced the challenge head-on, with strong determination, to bring the historic Round Barn back to its former glory through a loving and faithful restoration.
Preserving History: How a Group of Volunteers Brought the Round Barn Back to Life
The ambitious restoration work commenced in the year 1989, finally breathing new life into the historic Round Barn. The majority of the labor was carried out by a dedicated group of volunteers, many of whom were retirees sharing the same passion as Robison. They referred to themselves as the “Over-the-Hill Gang,” a testament to their experience, wisdom, and unwavering commitment.
When the moment arrived to reconstruct the barn’s iconic roof, Robison’s devoted crew faithfully replicated the very process believed to have been employed by William Odor over a century ago. In a poignant homage to the barn’s original creator, the monumental task of attaching the first rafters at the apex of the roof fell upon Luke Robison. Just as William Odor had done generations before, Robison embraced the challenge, ensuring the Round Barn would rise once more.
On the day of April 4, 1992, the lovingly restored Arcadia Round Barn stood proudly, ready for its grand unveiling. With a sense of accomplishment and love for history, the community gathered to officially dedicate the landmark, celebrating its return to its former glory.
In the brisk autumn month of November 1993, the National Trust for Historic Preservation acknowledged the tireless efforts and unwavering dedication of those involved in the meticulous restoration of the Round Barn. In a heartfelt gesture of recognition, they gifted each one of these individuals a prestigious National Honor Award, celebrating their exceptional craftsmanship and strong commitment to preserving a treasured piece of history.
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